Arun Shouries Articles

But who has that distant a horizon? III

May 29, 2008
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Arun Shourie: Thursday, November 15, 2007

There is every likelihood that pseudo-reforms will be pushed, and little possibility of the fundamental reforms that are required in Pakistan, writes ARUN SHOURIE

It really is ‘crunch time’ for Pakistan, says a keen observer: the mere installation of a civilian government will not change the character of Pakistan. In a sense, even under Musharraf, a civilian government has functioned — there has been a cabinet headed by Shaukat Aziz, a Citibank executive, no less; there has been an elected assembly; a ‘normal’ political party, the PML-Q, has fronted for Musharraf; there has even been a free press. And yet things have reached the pass they have.

A much more fundamental choice confronts Pakistan as well as the West: Pakistan’s rulers and its props have to choose — to either have the country lunge for the jihadi option or to wage an all-out struggle to root out the causes of the jihadi culture; to either hand the country over to extremists or to crush them completely. The problem relates not to whether the government is military or ‘civilian’. Even in the latter, given the way things are in Pakistan, the army and agencies like the ISI will control all vital decisions and policies, as they have done in the previous civilian governments. It relates to the nature of such government as controls affairs. It relates even more fundamentally to the nature of the society from which the government must necessarily be formed and which it has to steer.

As we have seen, the nature of Pakistan’s society today — in which, to recall just one symptom, jihad and shahadat have such exalted status, in which enmity to India has such a central place — is the result of developments over 60 years and more. Three features of the ‘solution’ that is necessary are at once evident.

First, as analysts like Ajai Sahni, Sushant Sareen and others correctly point out, it will entail deep, very deep surgery, a complete reversal. It will require not just that jihadi groups be absolutely crushed; but, in addition, that the army is completely subordinated to civilian authority; that constitutional government, and the rule of law are instituted; that the ISI in its present form is virtually eliminated; that the curricula of madrassas and government schools are overturned; that the objective of wresting Kashmir is abandoned; that the premise, to use Musharraf’s enunciation, that terrorism and proxy-war are ‘instruments of state policy’ is shed completely; that Pakistan comes to reconcile itself to more realistic notions of the extent to which it can ‘project’ its power; that either the populace goes back on the basic article of faith, ‘Pakistan is an Islamic state’, or that Islam is so thoroughly recast as to be almost unrecognisable.

But such an about-turn requires leaders of the highest legitimacy, it requires an intellectual ferment, it requires robust reformers. None of the three is around. The leaders are dwarfs, especially when it comes to religious discourse — none of them could hold her or his own even in front of the run-of-the-mill maulvis who crowd Pakistan’s Islamic TV channels. There is no intellectual ferment within Islam as it is practiced in South Asia. As for reformers, Iqbal is long gone, Maulana Maududi prevails.

Moreover, there are so many coils in which the current world-view is entangled. Recall, for instance, the deep links that Middle Eastern regimes have with the jihadi groups in Pakistan. Will they forego the links and the options that the links give them? The option, for instance, of directing the revolutionary zeal of fundamentalists to regions outside their countries and thus saving themselves? Within Pakistan, such surgery will go against the indoctrination of the last 60 years. The difficulties entailed in doing so, especially in the rural areas, can scarcely be imagined. There is another factor: Pakistan has relied on and stoked Islamic identity to neutralise ethnic nationalisms — Baloch, Pashtun, Sindhi, Mohajir. These will erupt even more ferociously than is already the case were the Islamic quotient in the concept of state to be diluted. In any case, such an exercise cannot even commence until the ruling elite of Pakistan comes to realise that it has no option at all except such a course. The fact of the matter is that, while they appear non-plussed today, the elite are far from such a point — on the contrary, they are confident that the West will, and that China and Saudi Arabia in the end will allow them, even assist them to go on as they have been doing. On the other side, with the breakdown of governance, security, even basic services, people are much more likely to leap for the messianic alternative that is being proffered by fundamentalists than to go along with such fundamental wrenching of everything they have been fed for 60 years.

The first point that stands out about what is necessary, therefore, is that, on the one hand, only deep surgery will work, and, on the other, there are almost insuperable difficulties in attempting it. The second feature is just as evident: even if it were to be attempted, such a solution will take one generation, if not two. And, third, neither the rulers of Pakistan nor the West — in particular not the US — have that far a horizon.

True, civil society has to be strengthened, the reasoning in the West is liable to go. But we need the army today, and the army feels that a strengthened civil society will necessarily weaken its hold… True, all these basic reforms should be initiated over the long run, the reasoning will go, but the army has to be humoured today — let us postpone these reforms till tomorrow — why not first start a pilot-project and see how things work out… And as the army will not be humoured by arms needed to fight the terrorists, we must give it the arms it wants — F16s if F16s are what they want — is it any surprise that of the eleven billion dollars that have been given to Pakistan as ‘aid’ since 9/11 by the US alone, only one billion are reported to have gone for ‘development’? Is it any surprise that, while military aid has been given ostensibly for fighting the Al Qaeda in the mountains, much of it has consisted of weapons systems that enhance Pakistan’s offensive capacities vis a vis a country like India?

This is exactly what the nostrums that are being pedalled today show once again. You must hold elections as you promised, Bush tells Musharraf. We can be quite confident that exactly that was Musharraf’s preferred option even when he was giving in to American pressure and striking a deal with Benazir. Get her to sign the deal. That will at once break the political configuration that the Charter of Democracy presaged. Then do the customary thing: rig the elections so that no party, certainly not Benazir’s PPP, wins an outright majority. The new ‘civilian’ government will then have to take your own surrogates on board. And you could certainly tell Benazir, “With a hung assembly, what can I do? I can’t amend the Constitution to remove the bar on your becoming PM for a third time…” Musharraf would have had little difficulty in ensuring this outcome — his Election Commission had already begun the process: the number of voters had suddenly fallen by several million, by so many that the number of voters for the elections scheduled for 2008 was less than the ones that were there in 2002; that the electoral rolls would have to be ‘corrected’ at top speed would give the agencies and the army all the opportunity they needed for ‘correcting’ them correctly! There would have been no difficulty, it is just that a random variable barged in, the chief justice and the suddenly independent court!

You have to give up your uniform, Bush tells Musharraf. Assume he does so, and Benazir becomes PM. As Wilson John and others have remarked, she will be one of a trio — Musharraf and Kiyani, the army chief, will be the two other members. She will almost certainly be kept out of the vital areas — foreign policy, in particular everything concerning relations with the West, India and Afghanistan; the fight against terrorists; nuclear weapons… This, after all, is exactly what was done in the past — and not just with her. In any event, the provision that allows the president to dismiss the elected government — Article 58(2) of the Constitution — would be still on the statute book, indeed it has been formalised once again in Musharraf’s Legal Framework Order — the precise provision that was used by a previous president, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, to dismiss Benazir earlier. Even if none of this comes to pass, and the trio comes to function, she, or in her stead some other civilian prime minister, will be the weakest of the three. As has been rightly pointed out, to stand up to the president, she/he will have to seek the help of the army chief. Even if she/he gets this help, the hold of the army over governance will be reinforced. And yet, everyone is fixated on, ‘you have to give up your uniform,’ as if it were a sovereign remedy.

Thus, the ‘solutions’ that are being pushed are liable to turn out to be merely pro-forma. Others are liable to be worse. One of the problems always is that those who have a particular thing make themselves believe that that thing will turn the trick. Those who have superior technology think that technology will solve the problem — witness Iraq. Those who have money think that money will solve the problem: announcements from Washington suggest that $750 million are to be pumped into the NWFP and FATA to ‘develop’ them; as Jagmohan has documented in the case of Kashmir, as K.P.S. Gill has pointed out in the case of left-wing violence and other insurgencies, we can be certain that the funds will end up with the terrorist groups and will finance the insurgency further.

The other nostrum — ‘modernise madrassas’, introduce science, computers, English — will fare no better. Quite the contrary. As Ajai Sahni writes, such steps will only help close a ‘competence-deficiency’. Today the would-be graduate of these institutions has some difficulty, for instance, in blending into the country he is tasked to target. Having been taught English, being familiar with science and modern technologies, he will be all the better able to use those technologies, he will be better able to blend into western societies for carrying out the operations for which he has been primed.

Hence, there is every likelihood that pseudo-reforms will be pushed, and little likelihood of the fundamental reforms that are required. At each turn, the latter set of reforms will be begun nominally, and soon postponed to the indefinite future. And every step that will be taken to put existing realities to work will only reinforce the current configuration.

The other development that is likely in the coming two or three years, if not sooner, will be even more consequential for us. American and NATO forces will retreat — from both Afghanistan and Iraq. They will retreat in defeat. We must bear in mind that American forces did not lose a single engagement in Vietnam. Yet they had to retreat. The Soviet forces did not lose a single engagement in Afghanistan. Yet they had to retreat.

This retreat will provide a tremendous boost to fundamentalist forces. While they will continue to try to penetrate the US as well as target American installations abroad, their immediate targets are likely to be one or two regimes in the Middle Eastern — regimes that have thus far been buying security by exporting revolutionary impulses; Europe — which is still caught in effete notions of political correctness, and in which there now is a quantum of population that is large enough to be a political force, as well as to contain within it the few who will be hosts to and provide members for fundamentalist cells: intelligence sources state that volunteers who left for training in Iraq and Pakistan are now returning for carrying out operations in Europe itself. But the most likely of all potential targets will be soft states like India.

That is the prospect for which we must prepare — a Pakistan the nature of whose society does not change, and a triumphalist extremism.

A host of steps is necessary for meeting that prospect — from shedding the perverse nonsense that leads so many to lionise those who assault our country: witness the campaigns for Afzal Beg; to exhuming the ideological bases of Islamic extremism; to showing up the pretensions of ‘Islamic states’ — how come, as Pervez Hoodbhoy, the Pakistani physicist asks, that such states are among the richest in the world and yet their work in science and technology is so far behind? How come, as Maulana Wahiduddin has asked, while it is claimed again and again that no religion gives as exalted a place to women as Islam does, the position of women in every Islamic state is woeful? For exhuming the ideological bases and nailing such pretensions to reviving the Northern Alliance so that, even if the Taliban win, they remain busy within Afghanistan; to supporting groups that are struggling for the most elementary rights in POK, in Gilgit-Baltistan, in the northern territories of Pakistan; to ensuring honest and effective governance in Kashmir… first we have to clear our minds. First we have to give up what has become our fixed policy — hoping that something will turn up.

Till then, let us be clear, the best possible outcome for us, one for which we can do little, is that a discredited and besieged Musharraf continues in office — so that the fount of decisions remains preoccupied with his own problems. And that the Pakistan army remains encoiled in protracted and bloody hostilities with the extremists that it and ISI, and so on, have reared — so that the trust and working alliance between them is ruptured. If prayers are to be the only policy we are capable of, pray for these, not for democracy!

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